The journey to Mwanza began yesterday before the roosters started crowing. We were up at 5am to finish packing up and meet Boots’ favourite taxi driver (Burhari I think) at the bottom of the hill to get a ride to the bus station. We arrived and were helped to get to our bus. Ryan went to put one of the backpacks under the bus and was told there was a luggage fee – Ryan said “no there isn’t” and walked away. They later also put my pack underneath without any mention of a fee. We’re finding it interesting how many people try to scam you just to get a little something – it’s a bit overwhelming at times as it feels you always need to be on guard.
The bus from Arusha left only 20 minutes late, which from what we hear is good for African time. We were on the road by 6:20am and making our way south around the tip of the Serengeti and then back north again to Mwanza. The passing scenery was at first obscured by the fact we were freezing (thanks to the driver having the windows down at the front of the bus) and later obscured by the blistering heat which could not be managed no matter how many windows were open. At times, I was amazed by they way every little town looks like the next – dilapidated buildings on either side of the highway, a deep ditch in between road and structures and lined with garbage, and random people and creatures wandering or standing around waiting for something to happen. Life here is different. Jobs are scarce and the people here seem not particularly interested in innovative solutions – they would prefer to wait on the side of the road as if something will materialize in front of them to help buy food for their family. This reality was made all the more clear in our conversations with Boots and Beans and some of the Tanzanians we have met along the way – a challenging conundrum of living here and seeing such potential and yet feeling so limited by “the way it is”.
Meanwhile, back to our trip. The bus stopped a few times along the way, always for an indeterminate amount of time. The first stop was in a completed random spot along the highway next to a field – the driver yelled “breaki” and everyone piled out…everyone but us. We watched as women went to one side and men to the other to drop trow and take care of business. This process took about 5 minutes before the driver gave a couple honks to say he was ready to go. Luckily this was the only highway pee stop on the trip and we later stopped at bus stations with “proper” bathrooms…meaning squatty potty’s with no flush and no toilet paper and no soap or sink to wash afterward, all you get is a bucket of water to rinse the squatty and your hands if you dare. We had hand sani and TP in our bags…thank goodness!
After 13 hours on the bus, we finally made it to Mwanza. It was dark, but only about 8pm – the whole country feels different at night though and we were hoping to find a cab quick. A guy from the bus who we had spoken to in English before was helpful in finding out a cab and negotiating a price. The cab driver’s name was Remmy and he was tourist friendly. The first hotel on our list, Christmas Tree Hotel was full, as was our second choice hotel, so Remmy brought us to Hotel Mayi noting that many white people stay there and it’s “cheapy cheapy”. We got the room and after a shower to clean off the dust (dry season is killer here!) we got ready for bed. This process was a little more complicated though as the hotel room has multiple entrances including large windows that face into a hallway, completely accessible by anyone walking by and one didn’t lock – so Ryan was glad for the screwdriver he brought along to rig the window shut.
We woke up this morning after a decent sleep in (8am) and got ready to tour Mwanza. We asked at the front desk about bus tickets to Kigali (Rwanda) and headed in the direction of the public market to see what we could find. We were lured to Kimotco (same company we took to Mwanza from Arusha) and booked tickets that would take us as far as a small town a bit before the border, requiring that we will catch a cab of some kind to the border, and then a minibus on the other side of the border. We later dicovered we were overcharged for the tickets, although they had guaranteed us these were not mzungu (white person) prices. Oh well. From there we found the bank and returned to the hotel to regroup.
We later to a stroll up the other side of downtown toward Lake Victoria. Sadly, getting to the lake was trickier than we first thought and when we finally found a beachy park area we felt a little unsure about safety as we were carrying Ryan’s camera and a lot of cash (we were looking to find a money exchange for Rwandan Francs), so we didn’t stay long. We wandered around many little streets, enjoying the book stores and stopping for lunch at a small cafe. We chatted with the waiter, a young guy from Rwanda. He asked about North America and what it was like, and told us his story of wanting to go to University and get scholarships to learn better English. There are many stories like this – many of them scams to guilt you, and it makes it hard to know when someone is genuine in their desire to learn. A part of me hopes he was legit, but I’m not giving him a scholarship.
We finally found a money changer at the New Mwanza hotel – the only guy in town who trades for Francs. Then we found dinner, a neat pizzeria that gives food to street kids and had a wall painted on the outside all about respecting children (e.g., “children have the right to play”, and “children have the right to not be abused” along with cartoon like pictures). The food was ok, but a bit pricey compared to the local fare. After that we wandered through the mall inside the Gold Coast hotel and started our way back to our hotel before dark, stopping at a duka (shop) on the way to get snacks for tomorrow’s journey.
The final drama of today is internet. Our hotel provides computers with internet, however writing this post alone has been at least an hour and a half in the making just to get logged in. Brutal! Tomorrow we will be up at 3am to meet Remmy our cabbie at 4am to get to the bus that leaves at 5. We have a 7 hour ride to the edge of Tanzania, followed by many more hours of travel on various forms of trasportation after that to get to Kigali. Meanwhile, once in Kigali we are there for at least a few days and hope to chill a bit before we continue on. A long journey ahead, so time for bed. Night!